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Is it Legal for Employers to Ask for Social Media Passwords?

You May Not Get the Internship but Do You Really Want to Pay the Price?


The debate of whether employers have a legal right to ask applicants to provide them with their Facebook username and password when applying for a position with the company was finally addressed on April, 11, 2012, by Maryland which officially became the first state in the U.S. to ban employers from asking job applicants to hand over their passwords for their social media accounts. The new bill prohibits both public and private sectors from requesting or requiring employees or potential employees to provide their usernames and passwords for any social media sites they have such as Facebook.

On March 23 2012, Facebook declared that employers who asked employees or job applicants for their Facebook passwords poses some serious concerns on privacy issues and the security of both the user and the user’s “friends”. Armed with information that may be on someone’s Facebook page could also open up a discrimination law suit against the company based on information such as age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, etc., Facebook today weighed in on the issue of employers asking current and prospective employees for their Facebook passwords.

Statement from Facebook CEO:

“If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends,” Facebook Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan said in a statement. “We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information. As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.”

In addition, sharing or soliciting a Facebook password violates the social network’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities which clearly states that, “You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.” As a result, Facebook is looking to engage the law to protect its users and Maryland has become the first state to comply. In March 2012 the ACLU spoke out and claimed that employers requiring employees or job applicants to supply them with their social media passwords was a total invasion of privacy.

Statement from Attorney for ACLU:

“It’s an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people’s private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process,” ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said in a statement. “People are entitled to their private lives. You’d be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It’s equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person’s private social media account.”

What is the issue in a nutshell?

The real issue of employers requiring Facebook or other social media passwords is that it’s a serious threat to personal privacy. It’s been likened to giving employers a key to your home where they are allowed to do anything they want and then base their hiring decision on what they find. Although it currently is not an illegal practice in all states except for Maryland, it is not a good practice because it opens so many issues that could potentially harm the user, the user’s “friends”, and the company.

As in the past, employers can use criminal background checks where applicable and check out an applicants past work experience from previous employers. As long as these checks pertain to the relevance of the position and the knowledge and skills of the applicant in order to be able to do the job, they are all ethical and legal actions to engage in.

What to do if an employer asks for your passwords?

If an employer asks for your social media passwords, you are in no way obligated to disclose them any more that you are obliged to give out your birth date, social security number, religion, ethnicity, or any other personal information that is not relevant to your ability to do the job. This does not mean that employers will not ask but it does indicate that you are the one that is in control and that there is a way that you can tactfully dodge these questions. So what should you do if an employer asks?

Listed below are some sample responses:

All of my professional information is included on my LinkedIn Profile and I believe it will provide you with all of the information you need to learn more about my academic and previous work experience.

Although there is no reason for me not to provide any information about my social media accounts, I do not feel comfortable disclosing my passwords to anyone since Facebook and other social media are strictly used for personal use and do not reflect my ability to be successful on the job.

There are many other responses that you can come up with but the key thing to keep in mind is that you have the ability to say “no” and that they employer may take your response and see it as a strength since you obviously have the ability to handle tough questions and pressure on the spot.

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